Category: Coping Skills

How to Advocate for Registry Reform with Minimal Risk

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By Michael M.,  Registry Report Editor

My decision to become a full-time advocate for criminal justice and registry reform wasn’t an easy one.  When I was arrested, the news media took whatever they could find online about me and ran with it, exercising complete disregard for its source or validity.  At one point, they published the photos of over a dozen of my professional associates, some of whom I’d never even met, and asserted that they were all members of a sex cult.  Anyone unfortunate enough to have been associated with me in business or socially was instantly branded as a probable co-conspirator, cult member, or sex-trafficker.

During my incarceration, my family and friends were targeted with harassment, vandalism, and death threats.  So, given that back-story, you can probably imagine their reaction when I announced that I was about to become a very public advocate for changing how the judicial system and society deal with sex crimes, victims, and offenders.

Related imageThey freaked out.

But this was something I really needed to do.  I’ve never been one to sit back and let life dictate to me how things ought to be.  My stay in federal prison left me desperately needing to feel in charge of my own destiny once again.  Because of what I’ve been through, I feel I may be uniquely qualified to contribute to the national discussion in ways that I hope are insightful and based on real experiences rather than conjecture and ideology.  The fact that I have extensive previous experience in writing, politics, and public relations is icing on the cake.

I needed to assure my family and friends that I would do everything possible to prevent them from becoming the “collateral damage” in a fight that none of them wanted to have any part of.  I gave it a lot of thought, and this is the result of that contemplation.

Ten tips for sex offender registry advocates.  I hope you find this useful.

1  It isn’t always about you.  Despite appearances in the first few paragraphs of this article, I am trying very hard not to make my advocacy all about me.  Sure, I truly believe I’ve been screwed by an unfair and uncaring system but, then again, so has pretty much everyone else who’s been touched by our labyrinthine and dysfunctional judicial system.  I will let my experience inform and shape my advocacy and infuse my message with some level of credibility, but I won’t let it become a holy crusade to fix my particular problem.  You shouldn’t either.

2 Focus your message on your target market.  Your objective shouldn’t be to preach to the converted, but to convince the undecided.  To do that, we must find common ground for discussion and potential agreement with people outside our comfort zone.  Picking social media fights with people who are obstinately against you is a terrible waste of your valuable time and resources.  That hour you spent in a flame-war with a pin-head who will never see things your way could have been better spent engaging with a handful of people who are willing to see things your way. Focus also means looking for the most efficient expenditures or your energy.  Marching up and down the street with a protest sign isn’t very effective or safe.  Writing a letter to your congressman? Better.  Donating time or money to an organization working on your behalf?  Great!

3 Don’t allow yourself to become indifferent to evil.  It’s incredibly easy to fall into the trap of “whataboutism” or relative morality.  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “It is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions.”  Some folks unthinkingly justify themselves by accepting or minimizing the immoral or illegal actions of others.  Others feel better about themselves if they can condemn and persecute someone whom they consider more despicable than they are.  The world is confusing and complicated enough without all the dissembling.  Pointing out that rape is evil, even if you happen to be a sex offender, isn’t hypocrisy.  It’s simply stating the truth.

4 Never get suckered into being portrayed as someone who wants to abolish sex crimes altogether.  No one wants that.  Those laws exist for a darn good reason – they serve to protect society.  A person attempting to undermine your credibility will often use a “straw man argument” such as: “So, if you had your way, child sex abuse would be legal!”  Our position should unequivocally be that sexual crime is indeed a serious problem, but it can’t be solved through mass incarceration, shaming, humiliation, banishment, unemployment, forced homelessness, and vigilantism.

5 Don’t lower yourself to the same level of vitriol as the haters.  Christ was reported to have said, “Converte gladium tuum in locum suum. Omnes enim, qui acceperint gladium, gladio peribunt.” (“Return your sword to its place, for all who will take up the sword, will die by the sword.”)  By using their logic, their tactics, you’re validating their position.  If you want to put all false accusers on a registry to be humiliated and persecuted, you’re accepting the notion that registries actually accomplish something.  If you think that people pressing for longer terms of incarceration should spend a year in some rat-hole jail cell to “learn what it’s like,” you’re just as bad as they are.

6 Avoid no-win arguments.  Getting into one with someone who is incapable or unwilling to use reason is a losing proposition for all concerned.  A person who is spewing hatred and duplicity at you is never going to suddenly smack himself in the forehead and say, “Wow! You know what? You’re right!  I am a fatuous moron! Thanks for setting me straight!” except, perhaps, in your dreams.  Far more likely is the possibility that the enraged nitwit will try to track you down and try to make your life miserable in some way.  Block and move on to something productive and less emotionally draining.

7 Keep your privileged information privileged.  Abstain from publishing your home address, phone number, employer identification, or other critical information that could be used to identify, harass, or harm you or your family, friends and employer.  It’s bad enough that, if you’re a registrant, the government is already publicly publishing this stuff about you, you shouldn’t be making matters even worse.  Yes, people may be curious about you, but their curiosity doesn’t give them a right to know personal details that might put your family at risk. Even allies could someday become adversaries.  Get used to asking, “Why do you want to know?”

8 Victims of sexual assault absolutely deserve to be treated with respect.  Many registrants were, themselves, victims of childhood sexual assault.  A broken judicial system victimizes practically everyone it touches.  Registry reform is not an issue that requires polarization into opposing camps.  We all want safer communities, less sexual abuse, better investigative tools, rehabilitated offenders, rational laws and sentencing, and greater respect for everyone’s constitutional rights.  Focus on commonalities, not differences.  The only way we can accomplish anything is to work together, not against one another.

9 Don’t just talk the talk; Walk the walk.  It’s easy to grouse about how bad things are, but what are you actually doing about the situation?  If you think simply “liking” stuff on social media is going to bring about meaningful change in our society, you’re seriously deluding yourself.  Change always involves risk, and it’s invariably painful.  It’s up to you to decide how much risk is acceptable and where your pain tolerance lies.  If you haven’t volunteered your talents or donated even a small amount of cash to the cause, then you’re as much a part of the problem as the uninformed and apathetic public.

10 Keep your advocacy focused on the betterment of society as a whole, not just a better world for former sex offenders.  We aren’t advocating for constitutional rights for sex offenders. We are advocating for constitutional rights for everyone.  Registrants are simply the canary in the coal mine, bringing to light the kinds of legislative and prosecutorial overreach that should be worrisome to anyone who believes in the constitution.  We’re not looking for a free pass.  We just want a system that is fair and does what it is supposed to do, which is keep our communities safer.

Five Reasons Why Becoming Invisible Isn’t the Answer

restaurant-small1Op-Ed by Michael M.,  May 27, 2018

It’s a perfectly normal, intrinsicly human reaction to having your name and personal information added to the sex offender registry.

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You want to become invisible.

You just want to be left alone and allowed to live your life without the constant nagging fear of harrassment, humiliation, and vigilantism. You wish your family, friends, and associates could stop being punished for your crime.  You often contemplate life in a cave, somewhere remote, far from the torch-and-pitchfork wielding crowds.  I get it.  I’ve been there.

Here are five reasons why you need to fight that craving for solitude and anonymity, and three reasons why you should proceed with caution when you do.

  1.  People with friends live longer, healthier, happier, and more productive lives.  Over a hundred studies of an aggregate of 308,000 participants who were followed for an average of 7.5 years showed that people with close ties to friends, families, and other social networks increased their odds of survival over specified time periods by close to 50%.

    network-connections
    Each new networking node increases the power of connections geometrically.
  2. Networking helps you to accomplish more.  It improves your chances of finding a great job that is suited to your skills and temperament. It can assist in your search for a suitable and legal place to live.  It may open up opportunities that you never even knew existed. Networking can empower you in a multitude of ways and it is a skill that can easily be learned and practiced.  Most importantly, it can help you to feel that you are taking active steps to improve your situation and to fix a broken system.
  3. Your experience may be the key to helping others in similar circumstances or in a similar frame of mind.  It is far too easy to believe that we’ve each been through a completely unique brand of hell that no one else in the world could possibly understand, nor care about.  But that isn’t true.  There are thousands, perhaps millions of people dealing with the same challenges and feelings, and knowing how you managed to cope with it all may help them through their struggles and can give you a sense of purpose.
  4. Solitude can be very, very bad for you.  lonlinessLoneliness raises levels of stress hormones and blood pressure. It increases the risk of alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide. Loneliness destroys the quality and efficiency of sleep, so that sleep is less restorative, both physically and psychologically.  All of this could lead to a former offender becoming a reoffender.
  5. It can make you more successful.  Successful people don’t necessarily consider themselves successful because they’re rich or powerful.  Instead, they often talk about relationships, well-being, and societal impact. Christopher Morley once said, “There is only one success, and that is living your life in your own way.”  Hopefully, that doesn’t include sleeping in a cave or under a bridge somewhere.

Now that we’ve covered the five reasons why you should throw off your cloak of invisibilty and get to work engaging with the world, let’s consider three reasons for proceeding with caution:

  1. Connecting with certain people may put you back in jail.  If you’re still on probation or some other form of supervised release, it will likely be a violation of the terms of your parole to associate with other known felons without the approval of your parole or probation officer.  A lot, of course, depends upon the definition of the word “associate,” but if your experience thus far has taught you anything at all, it should be that the authorities will define it in a way that is the least beneficial to you.
  2.  target-on-backIt could make you an even bigger target than you already are.  The proverbial squeaky wheel may get the grease, but in the case of a registered offender emerging from self-imposed obscurity, the consequences may include threats, harrassment, or even physical violence against you or your loved ones.  But then again, that threat has always been looming omnipresent for anyone on the registry, “invisible” or not.  Having friends, family, and a social network you can depend upon may make this less likely to happen or can mitigate the consequences, if it does.  The important thing is to avoid increasing your vulnerability while you are increasing your visibilty and community connections.
  3. Friends can be fickle.  You probably don’t need to be reminded of this if you are a registered offender.  frenemyYou’re well aware of just how quickly friends became former friends when news of your arrest became public.  Peer pressure can make some people do crazy things, and throwing you under a bus is an easy choice for someone facing condemnation from their friends and associates.  You can’t live in constant fear of this happening, but you shouldn’t be very surprised when it happens, either.

Survival for those on the sex offender registry can be a huge challenge.  It’s incredibly tempting to focus solely on simply making it through the day and tackling the tasks that are currently on your plate.  The plumbing is leaking.  The grass needs mowing.  The checking account is overdrawn.  You have a polygraph test coming up.  It may seem insanely counter-intuitive to take on even more.

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You may, in fact, be surviving, but are you thriving?

The key to thriving is to become a part of something bigger than yourself, to feel as though you are making a difference – not only for yourself, but for others.  If you’re not willing to get involved, get connected, and advocate for positive, meaningful change, then perhaps you’re part of the problem rather than the solution.

Think about that.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”  – C.S. Lewis